By Lauren Hughes
October 26, 2017
On Oct. 7, Maestro Matthew Troy graced the Civic Center podium, leading the OKC Philharmonic's second Classics concert of the series. Joined by stunning violinist Jennifer Koh, the Philharmonic offered patrons an exciting, eclectic program consisting of Rossin's "Barber of Saville Overture," Barber's "Concerto for Violin and Orchestra, Op. 14," Wagner's Prelude and Liebestod from "Tristan und Isolde," and Paul Hindemith's "Symphonic Metamorphosis of Themes by Carl Maria von Weber."
Troy, director of the Phil's Educational Outreach programs led the orchestra with great clarity and energy. The ensemble performed exceedingly well under his baton, and with the exception of few rhythmically precarious moments (understandable, and easily forgivable, given the perilous challenges of this particular program), the group was remarkably unified in enthusiasm, direction of phrase and musical spirit.
Classics 2 opened with a refreshingly refined rendition of Giacomo Rossini's whimsical overture, performed with all the character and rousing energy associated with the early Italian Romantic. Troy's somewhat reserved interpretation resisted the common urge to caricaturize this overture in a zany cartoonish frenzy. Instead, the Phil surpassed the “opera buffa” stereotypes, emphasizing the elegance and wit of the musical rhetoric.
Closing the first half, world-renowned violinist Koh took the stage in a commanding, and viscerally emotional performance of Samuel Barber's "Violin Concerto." Well-known for her interpretations of contemporary music, Koh brought a bold freshness to the beloved neo-romantic masterpiece. With the raw intensity and wild abandon of a rock star, Koh poured her soul into this performance, painting an expansive and colorfully rich panorama of sound.
The programming of Wagner and Hindemith for the second half presented a brilliant dichotomy not only of style, but of ideology. Pairing two composers so closely related to a particular ideological movement, separated by time and political stance, naturally leads the listener to hear them contextually.
As an egotist of massive proportions, well-documented anti-Semite, adulterer, socialist and German Nationalist, Richard Wagner often is characterized negatively, and is generally associated with a 19th-century proto-Nazi ideology.
Hitler's veneration of Wagner as the epitome of German culture certainly didn't help this perception. Wagner's renegade compositional innovations also earned him polarized criticism, inspiring reactions ranging from devoted cult-worship to outright disgust. Critic Eduard Hanslick famously likened the angst-ridden "Tristan und Isolde" to an “Italian painting of a martyr whose intestines are slowly unwound from his body on a reel.”
The OKC Philharmonic performed Wagner's decadent ode to frustrated lust admirably, offering a well-paced, well-conceived and sensuously effective interpretation.
Hindemith, whose rousing and triumphant "Symphonic Metamorphosis" concluded the program, was a defector of the Third Reich. Having married a Jewish woman, and having been labeled a composer of “degenerate music” by the Nazi regime, Hindemith fled to the United States, becoming a naturalized American citizen.
Troy's interpretation of this work was tight, clear and nuanced, exploiting the full range of Hindemith's unique harmonic language. The martial Allegro movements sizzled with a crisp, mock-militaristic attitude, while the contemplative third movement featured flutist Valerie Watts in a beautiful, delicate obbligato solo.
In the context of this program, Hindemith's neoclassical brand of modernity gave the impression of a bold, scathing rebuttal to the Wagnerian indulgence which preceded it.
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